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“Let me begin with an image. It is of an old-fashioned beam balance of the sort that blind Justice is often portrayed as holding. Its very appearance tells us what it is to be accurate. What I want you to imagine is that part of your visual system is like such a balance. When you discriminate colours correctly, it tilts just the right amount; when you discriminate them incorrectly, it tilts too much or too little. When it is generally in the first condition, so that you do discriminate colours correctly, Aristotle says that it is in a ‘perceptual mean’.
Imagine that your other senses are like that too. If the relevant part of each was in the mean, they would all be good and accurate discriminators of colours, sounds, tastes, smells and feels. Now imagine each of those five small balances registering their tilts, their inputs, with one large central balance (roughly what Aristotle calls ‘the common sense’). It constructs out of them a multisense picture of the three-dimensional world of objects that are coloured, make sounds, have tastes and smells, textures and temperatures, occupy places, and trace out continuous spatiotemporal paths, as they move around causally interacting with each other and ourselves. This is the world of substances – ousiai as Aristotle calls them. You, their perceiver, are also one of them.
When we perceive white, and our colour perceptual system is in a mean, our perception is quite reliable, but when we perceive that the white thing ‘is this, or something else, error is possible’. In these cases, the ‘this, or something else’ is a coincidental perceptible, such as the son of Cleon, whom we perceive ‘not because he is the son of Cleon, but because he is white, and the white thing is coincidentally the son of Cleon’. It is a person’s perception of coincidental perceptibles that fear or some other appetite or feeling can distort, so that he ‘seems, even from a very slight resemblance, to see his enemy’ or, if he is in love rather than in danger, his beloved.”
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